Locating Literary Heritage in Paratexts: An Analysis of Peritexts in Electronic Literature

Abstract (in English): 

Twenty-six years after its original publication in French, I examine and propose to revisit a traditional literary theory bound to the book-as-object for the realm of literature in programmable media: paratext theory as envisioned by French narratologist Gérard Genette (translated into English by Jane E. Levin, 1997). To Genette, paratext is that which accompanies a text. He differentiates and distinguishes paratexts according to location of appearance and the sender of paratextual information. Two concepts are relavant: peri- and epitext. Genette speaks and identifies peritexts as those elements of the book dictated by a publisher devoted to the cover, typesetting, format etc. and epitexts which exist outside a book in the form of notes and interviews. Both elements merge into what Genette calls paratext theory, all of which carry out a functionality. Among others, Genette envisions paratexts to fulfill a “literary function“ which serve for guiding a readers reading; a claim under critical exploration in this presentation. Investigating the theme of this conference, I question how paratext theory may help to locate the literary in electronic literature. How do the paratextual elements, or, more specific in the here presented context: how do peritexts that surround and point to a texts existence in fact point to a work’s literary content? Given the very informational original nature and functionality of paratexts, it should be expected to locate a work’s text in these liminal devices that accompany works of electronic literature. Methodologically, I take into consideration, compare, and search for locating the literary in different peritexts to one and the same work. Among others, the Electronic Literature Directory (ELD) that presents readers with encyclopedic articles on creative works is of particular interest to this study. The paper examines selected article contributions from the ELD, as well as work descriptions in the Electronic Literature Collection and asks how these locate the literary of a work. Text in an peritext is located if substantial engagement with a texts literary content is identified. This is true if a description relates to the themes and a work‘s motifs, if it presents a work’s characters, time, space, and setting of the imaginative writing. Optionally, the literary may also be located in a presentation of how a work’s material strategy and behavior relates to the content of a work. The paper intends to make the e-lit community attentive to locate text in paratexts to creative works. This is relevant if a works technical obsolesence is considered. Despite of archival work, if a paratext is all that is available should a work no longer be accessible, one should wish for a paratext that formally is as extensible as possible and as comprehensible as possible when it comes to a work’s literary content that is no longer readable. Such a proposal conceives paratexts as cultural heritage. It relates to Philppe Bootz’s and Alexandra Saemmer’s writing on the theory put forward in the discussion of the “lability of the device“ and builds on Saemmer who in an article states “I [thus] consider the paratext as an ultimate defence against the lability of our digital creations, as well as a part of my work“ (90).

Source: Author's Abstract

Works referenced:

Databases/Archives referenced:

Titlesort descending Organization responsible
Electronic Literature Directory Electronic Literature Organization
NT2 Répertoire Des Arts et Littératures Hypermédiatiques Laboratorie NT2, Université du Québec à Montréal

Research Collection that references this Critical Writing:

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Patricia Tomaszek